Edinburgh University’s Educated Pass scheme

At the University of Edinburgh, football is being used in an innovative way to reach some of the groups least likely to apply to university.

Edinburgh Educated Pass

There is a challenge in getting young men to apply for a higher education course, particularly if they come from a family with no history of attending university.

Drawing on successful examples such as in the Netherlands, where the first division team Ajax has a strong tradition of working with young players to encourage participation in education, the University of Edinburgh developed its ‘Educated Pass’ programme. The programme works with local boys’ football teams, targeting boys from under-represented groups in the 13-16 age range. Its aim is to engage the boys, their coaches and their families in educational opportunities through a shared passion for sport, and football in particular.

The programme is innovative in its approach in that it does not work through schools: boys are targeted through their local football clubs, and their football coaches - rather than their school teachers - are involved in promoting messages about the importance of learning.


The coach is the person young footballers really listen to, so I thought about how to take our message out of the classroom and into the locker room.

Neil Speirs
University of Edinburgh widening participation team

The programme’s eight sessions take place in the clubhouse over 18 months, first involving parents to ensure their support, then focusing on the coaches. The aim is to build on the boys’ commitment to sport in order to generate a similar interest and commitment to their education. The sessions provide generic advice on school, college and university pathways, using sport-related courses as a ‘hook’, but also demonstrate that educational and career opportunities exist outside the world of sport. Examples may include a graduate who read French and who now works for UEFA in Switzerland, or the graduate in architecture who designs stadia.

Sessions such as ‘the rights of the game’ look at issues surrounding human rights across the world. These are brought alive with examples of athletes who have taken a stance against political oppression or protested against civil war. Using football to teach science, other sessions look at, for example, the neuroscience behind concussion in modern sport.

Some 150-180 boys have participated in the scheme each year since it began in 2006/07 with early funding from the Sutton Trust.

Of the first cohort of boys to participate in the initiative in 2006-7

  • 92% completed S5 (fifth year) compared to the Scottish national average of 75% in 2010-11
  • 68% completed S6 (final year) compared to the national average of 56%.
  • Of those who completed S6, 67% progressed to higher education compared to the national average of 36%.

Five members of that original cohort are studying at the University of Edinburgh – and one has joined a professional football team in Scotland.

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